In my teenage years, it was rare to find me without a guitar. If I wasn't in school or working, I was in my room writing new songs or practicing in the unfinished basement of my best friend turned drummer turned best man, Kyle, or performing for a room of people. We played everywhere; the local bookstore, Sweet Sixteens, the neighborhood cafe, a pottery studio, an old record store, restaurants, fundraisers, you name it.
I'm grateful to have had a supportive family who attended just about every concert. Even to this day, they'll gladly make the trip to NYC to see me perform. Before I could drive, my dad would typically accompany me on his own for performances on weeknights. Many of these were open mic nights, aka a lot of fun and a lot of waiting.
As an adult, I look back fondly on these memories with my dad. We found ways to pass the time together, and in the process, I think we formed an unsaid bond. After performing, he'd give me feedback. I'd make mental notes. Most nights, he'd also record the performance, so I'd review it when I got home. More notes. Rinse and repeat.
The more that I performed, the more comfortable I got, the more I wanted to perform for more people.
As recollections of past performances pass through my mind, there is one that always stands out. It wasn't because it was our best performance or we had the largest audience. It was quite the opposite. I can't place the venue, but the turnout was much smaller than we had expected. I had high hopes, and regretfully, I let my disappointment show on stage.
Seeing my frustration, my dad came over to talk to me after a few songs. I don't remember him saying much except this: Always perform like you're in an arena.
It was a reminder that I was performing for myself, just as much, if not more, than my audience. It didn't matter if there were two or 2,000 people in the audience; what mattered was that I gave it my all. For those who did choose to support me, why give them any less than my best?
This statement stuck with me. I still find power in its application today. Over the years, I've come to view life as one big performance. Every day, we perform for our significant other, friends, family, co-workers, clients, etc.
Performance is about being true to yourself and consistently striving for growth. For this to be true, we have to perform for ourselves before we perform for others. We have to want to get up and make a special breakfast for our family because we enjoy seeing them smile. We have to want to design an incredible website experience because we know it will take the client's business to the next level, and that excites us. The minute we stop performing for ourselves and start performing for others, we begin losing sight of why we ever got up on stage.
As I write this, I don't know who will take the time to read it. When I let that get in my way, I find that I rarely make it this far. I become focused on the stories that I think others want to read, not the stories I want to tell. The stories that I know best and make me, me.